2018 Penn State Season Preview: Linebackers

By Craig Fritz on August 23, 2018 at 10:00 am
Penn State Linebacker Koa Farmer
Adriana Lacy - Roar Lions Roar

Ok, so a bit of a mea culpa. It was literal days after I lamented the state of Penn State's middle linebacker situation that lost son Manny Bowen was reinstated by James Franklin for the 2018 season. Not to say Bowen fixes all that ails LBU at the Mike, but it's certainly helpful to have a player with 21 career starts added back into the mix.

2018 is set to be a very interesting season for the 'backers in Brent Pry's defense. There's a little bit of experience and an absolute load of talented potential.

last year

Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith were No. 1 and No. 3 on the team in tackles, respectively. Their consistency should be lauded, and their production admired, but overall it was a rough year for LBU. Bowen played in nine game before being suspended for the remainder of the season and spring practice. It was originally believed he would not return to the team. Koa Farmer started all 13 games on the outside, and chipped in 48 tackles, 5.5 TFL, and a sack.

Shockingly, Penn State's LB Havoc Rate dropped from 29th to 92nd in the nation. There were just not many game-altering plays out of the unit. I wrote about the issue in a review of the defense's advanced stats. For a defense that traditionally relies on play makers at linebacker, this will have to improve.

the starters

  • No. 7 Koa Farmer (Gr./Sr., 6-1, 236 lbs.)
  • No. 36 Jan Johnson (Jr./Sr., 6-2, 231 lbs.)
  • No. 6 Cam Brown (Jr./Jr., 6-5, 226 lbs.)

As I said, the middle is still unsettled, and Franklin confirmed that Bowen will not be a starter for week 1. That leaves Johnson at the top of the depth chart at the Mike. Johnson played sparingly last year, seeing time in six games and totaling 12 tackles in a return from a knee in jury in 2016. Farmer played a ton in 2017, but will likely be leaned on even more with so much inexperience around him. Brown was forced into action in 2016 before he was ready, but the staff has brought him along steadily. An uptick in playing time and responsibility is likely to follow, and I believe Brown could be primed for a breakout season.

the backups

  • No. 11 Micah Parsons (Fr./Fr., 6-3, 237 lbs.)
  • No. 43 Manny Bowen (Sr./Sr., 6-1, 232 lbs.)
  • No. 9 Jarvis Miller (Jr./Sr. 6-2, 219 lbs.)

Prime the pumps, ladies and gentlemen, because this Parsons kid is getting ready to explode. By most reports, the former five-star and No. 6 overall player in the nation has lived up to his lofty billing through winter conditioning and training camp. Wednesday we reported Parsons was blowing by teammates in a 2s vs. 2s session. He's absolutely going to be a factor this season. 

I'm honestly not sure how Pry will integrate his rotation, but Bowen will be heavily involved throughout the season with a starting designation or not. He missed four games due to the suspension, and still played nearly 50 percent of defensive snaps on the year. I picked Miller as the backup for the other outside spot, but I am not sure how much he'll be involved, especially with the glut of talent at corner and safety that will be used in passing situations. 

the reserves

  • No. 33 Jake Cooper (Sr./Sr., 6-1, 231lbs.)
  • No. 41 Dae'lun Darien (Jr./So., 6-4, 224 lbs.)
  • No. 13 Ellis Brooks (So./Fr., 6-1, 237 lbs.)
  • No. 25 Brelin Faison-Walden (So./Fr., 6-1, 208 lbs.)
  • No. 45 Charlie Katshir (Fr./Fr., 6-3, 226 lbs.)
  • No. 40 Jesse Luketa (Fr./Fr., 6-3, 236 lbs.)

Should injuries or situational opportunities arise, the depth at LB is actually pretty solid from an athletic perspective. It seems senior Jake Cooper could never really get it going enough to be an every-down player, but still contributes on special teams. Look for similar roles for converted receiver Darien, Brooks, and Faison-Walden. Katshir and Luketa are probably headed for a redshirts, but both could see time in a few games given the new eligibility rules.